When silicone novelty baking pans became available here, I went crazy and bought 3 - a rose muffin pan, a traincar muffin pan, and a silicon castle bundt pan. They looked so promising when I saw them in the shop, but somehow, everytime I baked with them, the results were disappointing. The relief details were not always clear, and save for the one time where I baked a super-dense (and honestly not very good) pound cake in the castle bundt, all the cakes baked in these trays never seemed to unmold properly without some petals, turrets or chimneys disintegrating, resulting in trampled roses, broken down traincars and sad little castle ruins. Of course, there is also the problem that silicone pans are laborious to grease with butter, and if you use a baking spray like Pam, they tend to stay sticky even after a couple of rounds in the dishwasher.
When my friend C bought a heavy cast aluminium Nordic Ware muffin pan after attending a cooking class (plugging the same pan I might add), I laughed. Firstly, because I thought that at more than US$60 it was ridiculously over-priced, and secondly, it was so heavy and bulky I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to buy and store this over the roll-away silicone version (even though we know it's not that good). And lastly, because we both knew that she was always a little susceptible to clever marketing spiel and it seemed (to me) that she had totally been conned.
In a sign of true friendship, not only did C not take offence at my laughter, she even insisted that I borrow the muffin pan and bake away with it so as to make her investment worthwhile. I suspect also that she needed a place to store it ... haha, well, in any case, after my first experience with a Nordic Ware pan, it seems that I will have to eat my words (and silicone pans) after all. Each mini-cake came out tall and evenly baked, with beautifully and precisely detailed petals. I had no problems unmolding them at all as they literally slid out smoothly from the pans. I could never go back to my silicone rose muffin pan again. Colour me converted!
If you're searching for a good recipe to use with your Nordic Ware pan (or even if you're just in the mood for bananas), I highly recommend Dorie Greenspan's recipe for banana cakes (reproduced below). The cakes were soft, moist and deliciously fragrant with banana.
The only variation I made to the recipe was to insert a feve of Valrhona chocolate in the middle of each mini-cake, instead of mixing chopped chocolate throughout the batter. It was wonderful to bite into one of these and find these melty chocolate surprises in the middle. So good, in fact, that I rather regret not stacking 2 feves in the middle instead of 1.
To take these seemingly homely cakes to another level, try serving them warm like I did, on a pool of hot and creamy burnt caramel salted with fleur de sel, and a scoop of deliciously cold vanilla bean ice cream on the side. Banana cakes were never quite so chic.
Classic Banana Cake, The Small Version (taken from Baking with Dorie, Serious Eats)
Adapted from a recipe by Ellen Einstein in Baking From My Home to Yours
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
3 ounces chopped chocolate, optional
Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter 12 regular-size muffin cups.
Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then the egg, beating for about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the bananas. Finally, mix in half the dry ingredients (don't be disturbed if the batter curdles), all the sour cream and then the rest of the flour mixture. Stir in the chopped chocolate by hand. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.
Bake the little cakes for about 28 to 32 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. (The cakes will rise above the muffin cups, dome and then spread out and flatten beyond the cups—that's fine.) Transfer the muffin tin to a rack, cool for 3 minutes, then gently turn the little cakes out of the tin. Cool to room temperature on a rack.
Storing: Wrapped airtight, the little cakes will keep at room temperature for 2 or 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.